by

Daniel W Gonzales

What is wrong with me?

Why do I feel this constant state of fluctuation with reality?

Memories sift through me. One moment I am with you at age thirteen, I remember the smell of your skin, the lines in your face; it is so close I can almost taste it, but then I am transported to age forty-seven, to my children who always look disappointed.

Everything is so expensive, but Evie, my daughter, never understands; she looks to other families. They are so clean, these people who never want for anything. She says the words under her breath: “I wish that were my family.” I imagine them burning to ash and laugh.

That guy at work who is half my age and talks down to me—I catch him in the bathroom getting a blowjob from an intern. Then, reality flickers, and it is me sucking his cock, and I like it.

Reality bends constantly. Is this why my skin is so dry, peeling off more every day, turning scaly like a lizard?

“There is nothing wrong with your skin, Alex,” the doctor says. “This is all in your head.”

My memories are burning. At what stage am I? Is there even a nexus point anymore? Have I always moved through time like this? I need something to hold onto.

Please God, give me a constant.

I try to grip but am pulled away again. My fingernails bleed.

Evie is getting married, but I am drunk. “I wish you were dead,” she says.

Another shift. My wife hands me a packet of divorce papers.

I can’t fucking hold on to anything.

“You have cancer,” the doctor says. “I am afraid it’s inoperable.”

I remember dying, but even that feels so far away. How did this hap—

I am twenty-three, getting drunk with my friends in a parking lot behind a bar. One of them mouths off to another guy, and they start fighting. In a second that feels like forever, my buddy Ryan pulls a knife and stabs the other guy in the stomach.

There is so much blood.

We stand there for a moment, at a crossroads in our existence.

“Oh god, what am I going to do?” he wails. “I can’t go back to jail!”

The three of us load the body into the back of Ryan’s pickup. We go to the hardware store, take the corpse far out into the woods, knock out the teeth with a sledgehammer, dump it into a pit, fill it with lye, and cover it with dirt.

We are never caught.

I keep one of the teeth in my wallet. Sometimes I like to run my tongue over it. Maybe this is my constant. I—

In the hospital, I meet someone new. Madelyn. We fall in love. Everything is great until she finds the tooth. I make up a lie she doesn’t believe and she demands I tell her the real story. I do, then I bash her brains out with a hammer. These things happen.

Nothing is really real, just half-imagined, half-remembered dreams. Time. Space. Reality. These are just words. I want—

Everyone walks around wearing holo-watches. A friend scores me one.

“I thought you might want to see your granddaughter,” Evie says after years of silence.

I see the hologram of a baby projected out on my wrist. I touch it and—

I am shackled to a cold steel table in a windowless room that stinks of disinfectant and the anxious sweat of guilty men. The metal helmet is heavy, and I complain, but the technician—a bored-looking middle-aged woman—inserts a thick cable and initiates the transfer process without acknowledging me. The machine hums and—

Hell is eternal consciousness. I am given no rest. My daughter is sobbing. My ex-wife looks at me with tears in her eyes, “Why couldn’t you love me?”

Shadows crawl along the wall. I wait for a jackal-headed deity to deliver divine retribution, but none comes. Instead, the shadows laugh at me and eat pieces of my memory. The shadows have teeth. Even death has pain.

Things keep repeating. There is nothing to hold on to. I am—

“Let’s just jump into the river,” Devon says. He is so handsome in the moonlight. I remember his clean, innocent face. His chest is smooth, hairless. He is fifteen, and I am a year older.

The water is so cold.

Then, he kisses me, and it is warm and it is nice and it is wonderful, but I am so afraid of what it means that I choke him. He struggles, terrified, but my love is more powerful than his fear. My love takes the light from his eyes.

I feel the shadows shifting again, poking holes in my mind, taking things from me. The good and pleasurable moments, the opportunities for redemption—all are gone now. Only the bad remains. My sins are laid bare and keep repeating. I can’t stop it. I—

What is wrong with me?

Why do I feel this constant state of fluctuation with reality?

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